You know, of course, about I-695 and I-95 in the city - cancelled after residents from Hyde Park to Somerville raised holy hell and the governor canceled the plans and we got the Orange Line instead.
But a 1930 report by the Boston Planning Board (yes, back in the days when Boston had a planning board) proposed a series of new expressways and parkways, pretty much all with the purpose of speeding people downtown - in part through cross-town routes that would take traffic off the major routes downtown.
The key recommendation of the report was what even then they called the Central Artery, running on an elevated platform above Atlantic Avenue. Not only would it speed traffic, it would be far more pleasant than the elevated train track that ran above Atlantic at the time, because, after all, cars were a lot nicer and quieter than those nasty trains. Note the quaint central entrances and exits in the drawing above. And note how it's delicately perched above the existing road, rather than on a massive platform punched through the heart of the city.
City planners felt confident Boston would still need the highway even if all the department stores along Washington Street relocated to the hot new area of Park Square.
In the north, the Artery would hook up with the East Boston tunnel for which the legislature had already approved $16 million. In the south, it would connect with a new Blue Hills Radial Artery - a new road that, like the later I-95 proposal, would require plowing through entire neighborhoods to provide a faster route into and out of downtown, only in this case, on a road to the east of Blue Hill Avenue. The Radial would continue south into the Canterbury Parkway, which would connect Dorchester to Roslindale and West Roxbury, via Franklin Park (the board proposed making up for the loss of parkland by closing the roads in the park), and then the Clarendon Parkway, which would hook up with Washington Street after bisecting Stony Brook Reservation. People seeking alternate route could take the parkways the board wanted built on the Milton side of the Neponset and the Brookline side of the Muddy River.
Then, as now, traffic through Forest Hills was contentious. Planners proposed solving the mess by digging an underpass for the Arborway and Morton Street under Washington Street. Planners also loved the idea of rotaries wherever major roads intersected - Massachusetts was the rotary pioneer, after all - and lots of stone-faced underpasses and overpasses to reduce the number of intersections between major and minor roads.
Of course, we got the Central Artery. And it wasn't quite the thing of beauty planners hoped.
And while many of the projects in the report never got built, its authors would probably be amazed at what did: Instead of just one tunnel under the harbor, we now have three - and a giant bridge over the Mystic. We never got a Roxbury Crosstown road, but the failed 695 project left us with Melnea Cass Boulevard. There's no below-grade crossing at Forest Hills - but the entire Central Artery is now underground. And they probably would have loved the idea of the Mass. Turnpike extension and the current 128 (back then, 128 was a collection of older byways cobbled together with route markers). One wonders what they would have thought of the elimination of almost all Boston's trolley lines.
The Boston Public Library has posted more than 200 photos of Central Artery construction.
Central Artery photo posted under this Creative Commons license.